Tram crash: passenger sues for damages


A sequel to the December 28th, 1916, tram crash came in a three-hour hearing at Luton County Court on Thursday, August 9th, 1917, when one of the injured passengers, Miss Kate Brandon, sued tramway lessees Messrs Balfour, Beatty and Co Ltd for damages for personal injuries sustained and loss of wages.

Miss Brandon, whose address then was 390 Hitchin Road, had given an interview to the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph for its edition following the crash. Her address at the court case was given as 39 Round Green.

Tram crash 1916The court was told that Luton Corporation's application to the Board of Trade for an inquiry into the smash never reached fruition, and the cause of the accident had never been revealed and remained a mystery.

Mr W. A. Wardley, appearing for the plaintiff, said she was thrown from her seat against the glass window and then on to the floor of the tram. The jury could judge something of the force with which she was thrown when he told them the impact was so great that the seats were torn from their bracings, the iron staircase was twisted, and the woodwork and windows of the vehicle were reduced to splinters.

The effect upon the plaintiff was very serious. Up to that time she was employed as a machinist and had been earning an average weekly wage of 30 shillings. She had not yet been able to resume work, so she had lost 30s a week in wages alone since December 28th, a total now of £39 10s. In addition, she had to pay 10s 6d for medical certificates, extra nourishment £8 5s and travelling expenses of 7s 6d. The total out-of-pocket expenses alone were about £50.

Following the crash Miss Brandon was assisted in walking to a doctor's, but as he was not in she was taken to the Bute Hospital. She was attended there and then taken home, where she went to bed for a day or two. It was then found advisable to return to the hospital as an in-patient and remained there for 10 days before being taken home at her own request.

Mr Wardley said matter was brought to the attention of the defendants early in the year, but not until July 19th did they make any admission of negligence. Their officials and the Corporation had expressed regret, and he believed investigations had taken place and were still taking place, and steps were being taken that there should not be a recurrence of so great a danger to the poublic.

It was not a case of opposing the tramways or the Corporation. It was simply coming to them as reasonable, practical men, and asking as to what compensation should be awarded.

Mr H. Head said the case for the defence was that Miss Brandon was a malingerer.

When called, the plaintiff said she had formerly worked as a straw hat machinist for Messrs F. J. Elliott & Co, Guildford Street, for about 10 or twelve years, and her average earnings were about 30s a week.

She had got in the tram at Round Green to ride to work. In the accident her head was cut open and her ribs, back and arms hurt. She had been pinned in the tram before three or four soldiers went to her aid. She still suffered pain all over and had had to have a change of diet which included milk plus port wine twice a day. She wanted to get back to work.

Mr Head put it to Miss Brandon that she had been having a very nice time since strappings were taken from her arms in March. She had a lodger named Abrahams who spent his £2 to £2 10s a week earning from Skefko in the home.

The defence case devoted time to medical evidence in support of its claim that Miss Brandon was a malingerer.

Dr Verdon has seen the plaintiff in hospital and stitched her scalp wound before she left hospital against his advice. When she returned there was tenderness over the eighth rib and he thought it might have been fractured, but not a complete fracture.

Mr Head maintained there had been an error on the part of her own doctor and another who had later examined her over the extent and effects of Miss Brandon's injuries. Dr Oldfield, who was asked to examine her, said his conclusion on March 26th was that strappings she was still wearing should be removed as she was fully recovered. His report to the Tramway Company and Corporation was to that effect.

Summing up, Judge Wheeler said he did not like two phrases used by the learned counsel. It was not a bogus claim, and the lady had been called a malingerer. Whether she was or not, she had followed the advice of a competent medical man. The merits or otherwise of the strapping being retained was not the question. The defendants admitted they had to pay damages and it was up to jury to award such damages as they thought would meet the case.

After private deliberation, the jury returned a verdict for £60 damages, inclusive of expenses.

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: August 11th, 1917]